HEFF, TASTE Kitchen, Shrewsbury
Rating: 8/10 Andy Richardson says using the best local ingredients gives chef an edge.
The most common remark from those who read our regular food reviews is this: only the poshest get the top marks.
We offer the highest marks, so it's said, to the fanciest, most expensive restaurants. The remainder, they tell us, have to duke it out to score fives, sixes and sevens. Ten out of ten is a bridge too far.
Those assertions are nonsense, of course. While restaurants like Mr Underhills, in Ludlow, and La Becasse, also in Ludlow, are regular recipients of our top marks, there are others that consistently score highly.
The Green Cafe, in Ludlow, is a particularly good example of a venue that consistently achieves the highest scores.
In recent weeks, I unearthed another gem that I'm sure will remain in the upper echelons for some time to come.
The TASTE Kitchen, at Heart of England Fine Foods (HEFF), on the Battlefield Estate, offers value-for-money lunches in light and airy surrounds. The lynchpin of the operation is its head chef, Danny Silcock, who formerly worked at a number of Shrewsbury's better restaurants.
Danny has a distinct advantage over many chefs in the region. Chefs across Shropshire stand and fall by the quality of their ingredients. It doesn't matter how good they are: if they don't have the best raw materials, the flavours on the plate won't stand up to scrutiny. Danny is fortunate to be surrounded by some of the region's best producers. They are, quite literally, on his doorstep. The HEFF headquarters on the Battlefield Industrial Estate has more than a dozen starter units, where cheesemakers, butter makers, chocolatiers ply their trade.
"We're outside town, so people have to know about us and make a journey to get here. But it's definitely worth it. We're able to showcase the best products in the TASTE Kitchen. In many ways, it's the perfect set up."
I visited The TASTE Kitchen for a midweek lunch. Danny offers a range of specials that showcased ingredients from HEFF's members. So, for instance, Packington Pork might feature in a variety of ways.
One of the beauties of the TASTE Kitchen is its informality. It's equipped with wi-fi and during my visit there, I used it as a quasi-office.
The venue is part of the HEFF headquarters, which are open plan. So customers can walk in and pass straight from the organisation's farm shop, or reception, into the TASTE Kitchen. The informality does not end there. Danny cooks in an open plan kitchen. His customers are able to watch his every move. Nor does Danny have a brigade of assistants. He's alone, flying solo like a trapeze artist with no safety net. If he makes a mistake it would be visible to all.
The service was equally informal. Two waitresses doubled up as receptionists, answering phone calls in the front of the building before popping across to ferry plates of Danny's food to his diners.
The selection on Danny's menu was impressive and I opted for two starters, which he served as mid-sized portions. The first was his take on sweet and sour pork. It comprised crispy cubes of deep fried belly pork on a bed of egg-fried rice. A delicious sweet and sour fruit salsa was served as an accompaniment and pea shoots sat atop as the garnish. The pork was crisp and filling, the chillied fruit salsa cut through the richness and added depth and body while the peashoots gave it a wonderfully fresh edge.
The second dish was a smorgasbord of delights. Sesame seed-coated chicken strips were served with crispy chips, a small bowl of pickled red cabbage, a mini salad and an accompanying pot of Heather's harvest carrot chutney. The contrasting ingredients worked beautifully well. The salty chips and light, fresh salad: the slightly-hot chutney with the crunchy chicken and the piquant cabbage. Again, I finished my plate.
Danny Silcock is an impressive operator, a skilled chef who could easily walk into a head chef post at any number of Shropshire's better restaurants. HEFF have pulled off a coup by signing him up to cook at their TASTE Kitchen and the venue relies on him.
I'm not sure about the bright, vibrant green interior and it's odd to be served food by a receptionist. But, minor quibbles aside, it's a delightful place with tip top food. Those critics who think we never offer high marks to non-posh restaurants can think again. It's straight in with an eight.
HEFF, TASTE Kitchen Vanguard Way, Battlefield Enterprise Park, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 3TG
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